I had stopped going to the meetings for six months. Before that I was fading, but it wasn’t deliberate. The stress of being a Jehovah’s Witness and the daily treadmill on Watchtower’s hamster-wheel was too much for my physical and mental health.
In early 1992 I moved out of my parent’s home and did not tell anyone where I was going. There was no easy way for people to track me, no mobile phones, no Internet with social media profiles. I had met someone and moved in with him.
It was an act of desperation, as I had to get away. The Watchtower organisation was suffocating me. However, while only two months into my newfound freedom, I was involved in a serious motorcycle accident.
I was rushed to the hospital and while in the Emergency Room the medical staff were tasked with whether to x-ray my arm first, which they knew was broken, or check on the severity of my internal injuries.
They decided on an ultrasound to check for internal damages, which confirmed extensive injuries and that I needed immediate surgery. By this time, I was very, very cold and shaking uncontrollably.
Suddenly I needed to throw up and warned the nurses, who were now scrambling to get me a bowl. But it was too late. One nurse received the brunt of it and I began apologizing over and over again. I was abruptly interrupted by a doctor, who told me I needed to be operated on immediately. But, I first had to sign a consent form.
In that moment, the feeling of doom I had been burdened with for my entire life was pressing on my chest and suffocating me. This is it, this is where I die.
In a panic, I explained to the doctor that I could not have a blood transfusion. I quickly saw the frustration in the doctor’s expression. He uttered those words that anyone brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness does not want to hear, “You will die if you don’t have a blood transfusion. There is no other way of doing this.”
I’m sure that it is different for everyone that has been in this situation, but in that moment I didn’t question my faith. I didn’t think about the resurrection, or what Jehovah would think, or if having a blood transfusion was right or not. I just remember thinking that this is a doctor, an expert, and he wouldn’t say this unless it was true. And, I didn’t want to die.
Even though at various points in my life I’d struggled with depression and suicidal ideation, it was like a bolt of lightning to suddenly realize that now I had a choice whether or not to die and I didn’t want to die. In fact the idea of dying terrified me.
I told him in no uncertain terms I did not want my parents to know I had received a blood transfusion. I will say this now to anyone who is reading this: no matter what you are told by the Watchtower organisation, they do not have the right to your medical records or to speak to your doctors without your express permission.
After this, everything was a blur. I remember being told not to be concerned if I woke up in intensive care or if there were loads of machines around me. They rushed my trolley in the direction of the operating room. This amazing team of medical staff then proceeded to save my life.
When I woke up, my parents were at my bedside. I was not aware of how long I had been unconscious, I was just glad that I was alive.
If you were in this situation, what sort of things do you think your parents might say to you? To a child who had nearly died and one they had not spoken to in three months. They were looking at me, their child, albeit a young adult, in a hospital bed, hooked up to numerous machines, with strange tubes and wires attached to me. What would be the first words out of your mouth if your child had nearly died?
After telling me that they were worried about me, the questions started:
- Did you have a blood transfusion?
- Have you had sex with your boyfriend?
I expected to be questioned, but not immediately upon waking up. I was in terrible pain and my brain was fuzzy due to the morphine. So I denied everything. I looked at my parents and did not believe they had any love for me whatsoever.
They seemed more concerned with whether or not I had broken their religious rules. Their feigned love and acceptance of me in their life was conditional. I now could never go back to being a Jehovah’s Witness.
Shortly after the interrogation, my surgeon visited me and said they had needed six pints of blood and without it I would have died. My spleen was ruptured and in addition to removing it, the surgeon removed part of my pancreas and appendix.
As I recovered in the hospital, I thought about what I’d have to do if I wanted to continue on as a JW. Once I had been released from the hospital I would have had to meet with the elders in the congregation, and I would have had to detail every single sin I had committed, including receiving a life saving blood transfusion.
There was a small chance I might have just received a reproof, but I doubted that. Even if I had sincerely “repented”, I’d done so many things wrong they would have viewed any demonstration of repentance as just words. So I would have been disfellowshipped and shunned by all my friends and family for at least six months to a year, and obligated to attend all their meetings. Only then I might have been considered sufficiently repentant to be reinstated.
Back then, as crazy as it sounds now, I didn’t doubt that JWs had “the truth”. It never occurred to me that I had been raised in “the lie”. I just felt that I wasn’t worthy of being a JW and that I wasn’t good enough or faithful enough for God to want me in his organization. So I resigned myself to never living forever in the paradise earth. I would never see my grandparents again in the resurrection.
Only now, at almost 50 years of age, do I realize I should not have been put in this position. I realize that my wonderful children are only alive thanks to the hard work and dedication of a small team of medical workers and the blood transfusion that they gave me.
Now, and with the help of my loving children, I am basking in the luxury of healing from the fears and induced phobias imposed upon me as a child while growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness.
Do not go gentle into that good night
Don’t succumb to the peaceful release of death.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
– Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Dylan Thomas 1914-1953
Links for Evelyn De L’Ombre’s blog and YouTube: